3 Keys to Pose Great Looking Sports Portraits

Everyone understands the importance of posing. No one wants to look like a dull-headed nitty-muffin. But we also don’t want to look awkward or “posed”. People say to stray away from how our parents posed us in portraits. It is a generational thing—“stiff” and “emotionless” to be exact. The fine line for posing, specifically in sports portraits, has a few things to consider to sell the emotion to the parents. That’s what we do as photographers—we sell a luxury item built upon emotion. To capitalize on that emotion, the parent needs to see their kids in a more natural state. These tips will help you do just that and hopefully pull away from the “other guys” in the marketplace.


Photography that captures a human subject is talking! It’s always talking. It tells you the emotion of the subject – we feel that in our gut when we look at our kid’s pictures. There are things that align in the brain when we see an image of a human subject. The expression on the face matching the body along with the environment. These are key elements to photography that some people miss or deem irrelevant. The fact is this is what helps you sell. Without these factors syncing cohesively, you have a miserable picture that feels awkward. Referring to the gut, it’s a feeling when we first see an image. Our job is to align these factors. This key tip is effective for anyone in photography. It’s the base principle of photographing a human subject.

To accomplish the alignment of the expression, body, and environment, we keep it simple. Work backwards. Start with the foundation—the environment—which is set before you start shooting. Then move to posing of the body, and finally the expression. For the body, we need the shoulders relaxed, uniform without creases or bags, squared up with our light, feet widened, hands placed and the chin in proper position. Then we focus on the expression. What does “keep it simple” mean when it comes to expressions? I use smile or game-face. Understand this involves the context of the age of the subject and the market. For anything but varsity sports, I have them smile. For seniors, I tend to have them show the game-face—especially when team or senior banners are involved.


The phrase “keep it simple” works wonders for adults and even more for kids. Having a pose list for them to choose from can really impact your shooting time and keep things on track. 4-5 poses are plenty for the kids and also gives you options for when you want to composite the team without it looking overdone.


Alternating angles is another important aspect of keeping the end product in mind. Either squared towards the light or away at 45º keeps unity while also adding variety when posing your teams. Know the aspect ratio for the templates you are incorporating. If your memory mate has a pano opening for the team, don’t stack the volleyball team 5 rows high. I can’t tell you how many times a little forethought and simple test before the shoot has saved me from looking like a fool.


Since starting in 2014, I was drawn to big name photographers like Joel Grimes and Dustin Snipes in the sports portrait “sportraits” photography world. I incorporate posed-action portraits for my senior banners (which are a big hit in the Midwest area). I do not recommend this for young kids, but if you set this up as a mini session for senior athletes at a school, this becomes a lucrative angle towards high school sports. I run these as a mini session as opposed to doing these during the regular team photo session. There are some key benefits to doing it this way:

  • Get one-on-one time with seniors
  • Gain KLT (Know, Like, Trust.) through time not getting interrupted by coach or practice
  • Allows parents to be involved and show more interest with custom time
  • Gives you an opportunity to create unique products that really are something different in the marketplace
  • And we can’t forget higher averages and participation—especially when you incorporate IPS

If you have been following the photography industry for at least 5 years, you have noticed several trends that have helped propel some photographers in staying ahead of the competition. Most people think it’s hard to reinvent yourself after 5 years. If you are always improving your skill set and adjusting your business plan, you can stay ahead of the curve. It does take time to learn new skills. But if you commit time and have a vision for the product, you can become an expert in 10,000 hours, as they say.

Mike Curtis

This article was written by Mike Curtis. Mike is a sports and senior photographer based in Kansas City, KS. His career in photography began in 2014. What started out as a hobby in messing around with Photoshop developed into a passion for high quality imagery. He loves this craft, but first and foremost thanks Jesus for his grace. He is loved by my amazing wife and daughter.

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